Cornerback Davondre Bucannon shifted the game by stripping the ball as Jaedon Matthews appeared to be on his way to the end zone to give Scottsdale Saguaro a three-touchdown lead early in the second half.
The ball bounced out of the end zone for a touchback.
Suddenly, Scottsdale Chaparral could do no wrong. On offense. On defense. And in the end, the Firebirds stuffed a two-point try, then intercepted a desperation pass near the end zone for a heart-stopping 27-26 victory Friday night that had the Chaparral student section, known as the Bird Cage, storm the field.
It was Chaparral's first home game of the season, and, as expected, with no more mask mandates and fan restrictions, there was an overflow crowd.
This was among the most anticipated and dramatic games in the history of the rivalry that dates to the 1970s, after last year's game was canceled due to positive COVID-19 cases on Chaparral's team.
"We had to sweat it out, but our guys were able to make a play at the end to finish it," said Chaparral coach Brent Barnes, whose team rallied from a 20-7 halftime deficit.
After Grady Hickey gave Chaparral a 27-20 lead with nifty moves and great speed for an an 89-yard touchdown run 5:45 to play, Saguaro (2-1), ranked No. 3 in the Super 10, came back and scored on sophomore receiver Jaci Dickerson's 3-yard run with 2:22 to play to cut the score to 27-26.
Instead of tying it up, Saguaro elected to go for the lead.
But quarterback Ridge Docekal, with the play breaking down, tried to run the ball up the middle and was stopped just short of the goal line. The Chaparral sideline went wild.
Saguaro was out of timeouts. Chaparral (3-1) ran the clock down to 10 seconds with quarterback Brayten Silbor taking a knee on each down, before his short punt gave Saguaro one last shot at the end zone from the Chaparral 45 with seconds left.
Miles Vandenheuvel's interception near the goal line preserved the win as time expired. It was the first time Chaparral had beaten its rival since 2013.
"We had a good two-point play set up," coach Jason Mohns said. "There was some kind of miscommunication from the signal that came in. We didn't send a receiver in motion that was supposed to go in motion. It was kind of a busted play, which is crazy because we ran only one two-point play all week long, and it looked good every time we ran it."
Saguaro struck first but Chaparral, behind Silbor, countered with a three-play, 80-yard scoring drive with Silbor finding tight end Lukas Garvey for a 44-yard score. From there it looked like it would be a shootout.
But Silbor was intercepted by Thomas Dechesaro, who returned it 72 yards for a touchdown. Saguaro went up 20-7 with 9:49 to play in the half on backup quarterback Cole Goodwin's 3-yard run.
After a quick three-and-out to start the second half, Chaparral was about to fall behind 27-7, but Bucannon, the brother of former Cardinals safety Deone Bucannon, stripped the ball from Matthews as he was headed into the end zone on a 52-yard run.
That shifted the whole game.
"We practice stripping the ball," Bucannon said. "It felt amazing. All the passion we play with. We play with heart. We're a good team."
That energized Chaparral's defense, which was getting into Saguaro's backfield more often in the second half.
And it gave the offense a boost with Silbor continuing to take shots down the field with his big arm.
Silbor's 35-yard pass to Hickey in traffic led to Jamarei Ashby-Phan's 2-yard scoring run that made the score 20-14 with 4:44 to play in the third quarter.
On the first play of the final quarter, Silbor found Gavin Higley for a 21-yard touchdown and Chaparral took its first lead, 21-20.
Hickey's 89-yard run was the biggest offensive play of the night. Chaparral tried to make it a two-possession game by going for two, but was stopped.
"We were just trying to make plays after halftime," Hickey said. "Our guys just never gave up."
Silbor said Bucannon's strip of Matthew's run as the play that "saved us."
"The only thing we had to do was lock in," Silbor said. "We were making stupid mistakes. We came out here and showed that we are better."
Barnes said he's seen Bucannon do that before, in the 6A playoffs last year against Queen Creek with a turnover in the end zone that changed the momentum and led to a Chaparral win. The Firebirds went on to win the state title.
"When that happened, it certainly wasn't going our way," Barnes said "Not only does he make the play, but it's our ball right there. The hustle to get the ball out, but you still have to finish to get the ball back. The bounce went our way. We took advantage."
Saguaro will have a different team in a few weeks with transfers becoming eligible. This was a learning experience for a young team relying on sophomores.
"You come back to mistakes," Mohns said. "We're not calling timeouts in good situations. We're calling timeouts because we're not getting lined up right. Our personnel is wrong.
"We just need to get more dialed in. We get a little flustered. We have some young guys in key spots. But we have some older guys not showing that senior leadership.
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